Spying On Faraway Planets

The Kepler space telescope, launched by NASA earlier this year, already is paying some very cool dividends.

Gas giant detected by Kepler telescope

Gas giant detected by Kepler telescope

The Kepler telecope is intended to identify planetary bodies in other solar systems and then determine which ones may be capable of supporting life.  In a test run, before official science operations have even begun, the telescope focused on a planet, called HAT-P-7, orbiting a star 1,000 light years away and was able to determine that the planet has an atmosphere.  Of course, it’s not a planet any of us would be interested in visiting — it is a gas giant slightly larger than Jupiter that is 26 times closer to the star than the Earth is to the Sun, and the planet orbits the star in a dizzying 2.2 days.  The dayside temperature of the planet is 4310 degrees Fahrenheit.  Be sure to bring a cool drink when you visit!

Planet HAT-P-7

Image of Planet HAT-P-7

Sometimes we forget how extraordinary our technological advances have been, so we should all pause for a moment and consider how amazing it is that we can figure out significant details about a planet that is more than 1,000 light years away — and remember, one light year is 5.88 trillion miles!

The NASA website and BBC reports on the discovery are here and here.

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